Monthly Archives: October 2018

America the Beautiful

I struggle with the political climate of the world right now. I struggle with war, traffiking, exploitation, marginalization and systemic oppression. What a privilege. What a privilege to have choice. To see these things and believe that they don’t need to be a part of life and relationship. The truth is for an enormous portion of human civilization, crazy, narcissistic, indulgent assholes have been in charge by force. Then, just for this little glimpse of the last few hundred years, every once in a while a statesman showed up, caring for others in addition to or even (gasp) above his own interest (and even more recently above *her* own interests, another exceptional development). It’s certainly not a style of governance that has been on a constant trajectory towards equality and equity but it certainly is a start, and even amidst the ebbs and flows of just and noble governance, we have the choice to keep the faith and put in the work to build the world we want. That’s a really big deal.

I’m super lucky right now in that I can see all of the tumult of the outside world within myself and I have the time and inclination to address it. To address and recontextualize, to face down the inner demons and nurture the macro-self, the part of me connected to all of life, every one of my fellow beings. This is probably a life-long endeavor, ever unraveling deeper layers of dysfunction and offering opportunities for equanimity and peace. I desperately wanted to “fix” it, get rid of my bad parts and become some shining beacon of light. I searched for “the answer” and tried to implement more “answers” than you could shake a proverbial stick at, if you had one. I’m happy to be off of that particular merry-go-round. It was very popular with the judgy, strident part of myself that I’m prefering to relegate to the back seat.

I had a situation a few weeks ago that brought out some Kali energy. Kali. She is a bamf. She literally eats demons in a single bite. Unless she feels like making it several slow painful bites. Totally up to her.

She is an aspect of the goddess that comes out in the cosmology when things are profoundly out of alignment with truth. She is *really* into truth. and she is ruthless. and, in her ruthlessness she rebalances the world. But to your average observer, she’s a maniacal nut-job. Good thing we’re not average observers.

Kali is responsible for several key re-balancings of history according to the accounts of Hindu cosmology I’ve read (there are so many versions!). And when she’s eaten all of the demons and she’s on a rampage and it’s time to stop, Shiva himself lays down at her feet. He *is* truth, and so she cannot rampage on or past him. When he makes himself vulnerable to her, the rampage ends and the world goes on in it’s renewed balance.

Imagine if Kali took other people’s opinions of her behavior personally. “That’s not very goddess-like, missy” or “a real goddess would’ve found a non-violent way to end this madness” or “you should leave the heavy lifting to the gods” (spoiler alert: the gods already lost, that’s why Kali manifested). According to legend, without her and her wholehearted badassery, the demons would be completely in charge of this and every other realm. But, if she doubted herself, if she got caught up in how she was being perceived – she couldn’t change her shoes, much less restore balance to the world.

And so we move on, sometimes we are Kali and sometimes we are eaten by her. But, when the shit gets crazy, there’s a little part of me that knows that her energy cannot be stopped, that it comes when it’s needed, and that she is part of a strength and love that nothing can subdue, no matter how crazy, how powerful or how sentimental.

It’s going to be interesting…

let’s talk about pain, pt2

That meditation CD that made me go to sleep (god bless it) also first demonstrated the idea of getting curious about pain. Watching it. Feeling it and noticing if it changes, how it presents. This was a very useful practice as well. Nearly a decade later I would learn from the Feminine Power course to go further and inquire from the pain into age, size and origin – this works with emotional pain as well as physical pain. It can be transformative. But it’s not always possible. Sometimes the pain is simply too distracting to find the part of yourself that’s curious, and sometimes I’m just tucked away in a corner of my psyche rocking myself back and forth to endure it.

But, even then I’ve learned to apply mantra to the pain. At first, for me it was the Pilgrim’s Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me) but it changes. I did Ashaya’s Ascension and use those phrases sometimes. Also, the statements in Paul Selig’s work get a lot of play when i am in that state. And it’s helpful. It gives me something to do other than just be in agony. It keeps agony company. Speaking of which…

About 5 years ago I started “The Presence Process” which is very powerful and transformative in many ways. Something in this process had me begin a practice of visualizing a porch close to the one when I lived at “camp” (imagine a beautiful porch overlooking water and foliage and general splendor, with a couple of Adirondack chairs. This process (and i’m pretty sure it’s not part of the actual instructions) had me inviting my pain to come back to the porch with me and have a seat. I’d offer it lemonade. But mostly we’d sit. Coexisting, looking at something beautiful. Sometimes I’d get insight into the pain and sometimes I wouldn’t, but separating myself from the pain, giving it respect and attempting to develop mutual equanimity through nature has been a very powerful tool for me, too.

Recently, I heard a story about Swami P, founder of the Vedanta Society of SoCal. For some reason he had to undergo surgery without anesthesia. He remembered All Is Brahma, and thereby pain is Brahma, too. He approached the pain as Brahma and, well, as the story goes his being was so still through the surgery they thought he died and he woke up with a sheet over his face. But the moral of the story to ME is just remembering this pain is part of God and approaching it thusly. This makes an enormous difference in my experience of the pain whenever, of course, i can remember to use it.

These are the big strategies, but I’m going to explore this more through these days that I can anticipate will have the practical world of surgery coming up…

let’s talk about pain; part 1

I avoided pain as much as the next guy. I mean, pain is pain, right? And we’re wired to avoid it. We’re wired to at the very least take it as a signal to change something, and preferably as quickly as possible. Pain is basically universally considered to be a drag. And I can’t disagree. And yet,

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

This was a distinction I had never considered, having largely considered Pain and Suffering the same thing. They’re not. Not by a longshot. Now, pain can really suck and enduring it can very often involve a whole lot of suffering even when we’re completely convinced that pain and suffering are different. Today I had a lot of pain and a lot of suffering. But, every time i remembered they are not the same and moved into curiosity and my variety of other strategies to listen into pain, my experience of it changed completely, if only temporarily. And off the cart I would fall. And back into the cart… well, once I noticed I was off the cart I didn’t have to climb, I was lifted. Noticing was all that was necessary – noticing and deciding to put it into a feeling state. The feeling state then lifted the whole endeavor.

But I am, like most of my species, distracted and restless and so it wouldn’t necessarily last long. So, remembering is the trick.

When my body first went into crisis I think 9 years ago, it really caught me by surprise. I used to have a candy dish full of advil on my desk. There was no pain advil (or a few) couldn’t solve. Nothing could touch the constant pain and it was as disorienting and confusing as it was uncomfortable. Trying to watch funny movies, trying to distract myself from the constant. active. pain. – reading often aggravated it and added a headache, but I was reading as much as I could. And desperately trying to meditate it away. About 60 days in, I got diagnosed with RA and found and read Conquering Arthritis which was amazing for me on two levels: 1) She introduced me to Perelandra’s Medical Assistance Program and 2) she had a set of meditation tapes that I hated so much, i would zone out and fall asleep – sleep that had eluded me for months. so, while i hated them, i loved them. they gave me reliable sleep when literally nothing else could. what a godsend.

So, sleep started, and then my Perelandra book came and I started MAP. 5 days later, the pain dropped down and was just achiness. I’ve been doing MAP regularly since then and consider it one of the most important parts of my life. So, yeah, you might want to google Perelandra and pick up the “MAP: Medical Assistance Program” book. Or that might be a little off the deep end for you… no matter. It marked the end of my pain not only because it did, thankfully, literally stop it (along with the fish oil finally kicking in (it can take weeks) and just the right confluence of events) but it also recontextualized pain as a communication tool. This is a principle that changed my life.

I hope I feel good enough to write the next chapter of my journey with pain tomorrow, but right now, i’m needing to stop…

why I hated meditation

I was introduced to meditation in a way that really wasn’t appealing to me. There was this air of spiritual superiority that really made the whole thing seem so. freaking. hypocritical. and the constant lecturing of meditating would make you a more acceptable human being, like me, see?

I had literally dozens of those influences, and most of the cool people who meditated were pretty quiet about it so I didn’t even know.

So, i hated meditation.

i was convinced, i would find a path to God that didn’t include meditation. I’d do any practice you could give a reasonably different name to, and as long as it wasn’t meditation, I was willing to try it.

But, luckily I had some friends who explored meditation, and occassionally I would go to things with them, and I did have some fairly intense initial experiences in meditation. But, the holier-than-thou perception still sullied becoming a commited meditatior, but the good feelings would make me start a practice again, only to stop when the buzz wore off.

When I got sick, I realized this was a battle I was going to have to let go of. and i went into meditation. begrudgingly.

i took Wisdom Heart’s “The Meditation Habit” online. It was slightly still in the same paradigm of meditation I really resisted, but he was diverse enough and had a good balance of spiritual and practical. I got two of the most enormous gems from Wisdom Heart – that every meditation is a good meditation, and that meditation is building the muscle of coming back to center when the mind goes off on tangents. Wow. Those things turned it around for me. I took every class Eric taught and love each dearly.

But I was still stuck in a difficult relationship with meditation. It was an obligation. Even when I looked forward to it, I felt a pressure, a possibility to fail and be disappointed in myself and a big part of my doing it was avoiding that feeling. And I’d be disappointed

Another delightful concept that turned my world around came in the form of Alison Scola talking about “who wants to listen to a whiny penitent asking for stuff?” – I’d mostly been asking to get better at meditation, or back to those peak experiences, but hey, yeah, obviously.

and that coincided with a turn from the desire for an intellectual yearning for God and bliss and union to a devotional practice of deepest appreciation. Needless to say, that changed the game.

Recently, though, my meditation practice began to wane, as much as i adored the time in devotion, as much as it served and nourished every aspect of my being. Somehow I couldn’t get down to the alter – actually, that was a big part of it. My hip. I couldn’t get down and kneel at my little alter, and doing it in a chair wasn’t the same experience so I ditched. But i didn’t want to ditch. So, I had to change.

That’s when I took Ziva meditation. I really love her style, and she has this “meditation as hygiene” philosophy that (kinda) strips out the (overtly) spiritual, but really gets to the physical goods. And I really do believe the hygiene paradigm. Two brief hygiene-based sittings to show up in the world with the presence meditation develops. Totally useful.

So, it separated meditation from my spiritual practice a little bit, allowing me to have a third experience solely devotional in nature, as long or short as time allows. Just a daily dedication to put awakening first, becoming as clean and clear an instrument of Mother’s love, cutting off the sandbags, evolving into ever-deeper love, freedom and relationship.

I’m feeling that especially until my hip is fully recovered, Ziva will keep me practicing. I actually secretly love her….

my spiritual journey

I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school and church every Sunday, and I liked it well enough, it was “normal.” I had two ideas about God as a very young kid 1) If we all got together in a circle and held hands, what was in the center was God; and 2) There had to be  a planet for each choice in life (if i wanted PB&J and got a salami sandwich, lucky me on some other planet was having PB&J). I couldn’t imagine God could let you hold so deep a desire and not have it be fulfilled. I mean, why even have it? But, in general, it went down like the bible said and God was alternatingly terrifying and comforting and it was all kindof weird, but i got on with it.

Somewhere in high school I got a sense of Jesus as an individual and that deepened my experience of the otherwise rote religious activities I’d engage in from time to time. My junior year I read a card I’ve written about…”the oldest wisdom in the world tells us we can unite with God whilst in the body. for that man is truly born.” … well, obviously! But I’d literally never thought about it before. I’d thought about joining God in heaven and liked that idea well enough and tried to be a good person so i could earn it, but connecting with God whilst in the body? Sign. me. up.

Enter Joseph Campbell and the power of myth series with bill moyers (sorry for no capitals) and most specifically a wall carving of ‘the three faces of god’ – a central full face and two profiles to either side of it, one male and one female.  He described that if you focus on the central face, you can take it all in, but if you look left or right, you really can’t stop looking between them. Your attention simply can’t be full. Or at least that’s how I heard him.

Next up was the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ wherein they describe the seven tests of the Christ which Jesus took. In the first one, upon Jesus’ arrival at the temple he is shown to his quarters, told the test will begin tomorrow, and left alone. enter two people from a secret door who plead with him to follow them – that the elders of the temple know he will succeed and are jealous and plotting to kill him. He sorta laughs them off – “uhm, thanks for coming, guys, but fear doesn’t motivate me, so the chances of me following you -even to save my own life – are nil. have a good day, though!”

This brought that figure of the Christ into the realm of not just an individual, but an individual who, as a matter of character, makes good choices. Always chooses God. Wholeness. Love.

Yeah, I was hooked. Thus followed hundreds of books and the occasional movie (the first, “Mindwalk” and “brief history of time” then things like ‘what the bleep’ and ‘i heart huckabees’ many years later) and the slow acquisition of practices, from A Course In Miracles to yoga to (under duress) meditation (maybe that’s the next story)

Spirituality was in my top 5 priorities all of my life. And then in the top 3. It wasn’t until my health became my #1 focus and priority for long enough that I could get it flexible enough to transition and make spirituality #1. That’s the greatest gift this illness gave me. Priorities and practices to tend to my own garden as an expression of life itself. Yes, please.

I read a bumper sticker once: “If God is your co-pilot, you’re in the wrong seat”

 

making roses out of lemonade

Now, that *would* be a trick.

I’ve had a whole lot of luck during my illness. Even considering an illness may be bad luck in general even if it’s actually wildly beneficial. So, yes, getting sick focused my life in the most wonderful way possible. It has sucked to varying degrees every. damn. day. but all in all it got my life on the right track in a focused way and keeps me there with some pretty clear guidelines. Sounds a lot like a teacher, right?

Last summer, Swami Yogeshananda gave a series of talks about his time serving some of the great saints of Vedanta. Often he would tell stories of them reprimanding him or other young monks, or each other, and I remember thinking, “I would last about 5 minutes with a teacher like that.”

And, once again, I’m forced to eat my words with a dose of irony and a little cosmic humor.

God put my teacher on the inside. Genius. I can’t get away.

And my inner teacher has been completely amazing focusing my life on practices and habits that allow me to live a very normal lifestyle, if at half-speed. And, while that sounds like a bummer, once you get there you realize it’s a huge luxury. But, I digress…

I’m 10 days out from total hip replacement surgery. I’m pretty psyched. I haven’t been able to tie my own left shoe for over 5 years. I sortof feel like my body has been preparing me for this for a long time. I like a metaphor, so I really see this as an opportunity to restructure myself from my most central and powerful construction. Gene (my tai chi teacher) talks about the eight harmonies, and the hips are 1st harmony. without them, the whole system’s off kilter.

I recognize I’ve held central beliefs that it doesn’t surprise me one bit that it eroded the mechanisms related to it. I’m hardly alone in all the “i’m not good enough” “I’m too this” or “I’m too that” “they don’t like me” blah blah blah beliefs that sabotage so many otherwise brilliant and wonderful people. We are all flawed, but we all also have the fullness of God within us, so- silly to play small.

I don’t know what my future holds. I know that my very favorite thing is being in conversation about the glory of Life Itself unfolding all around us. All these other conversations (whether about groceries or religion) pale in comparison. My next favorite thing is probably laughing. But, again, I digress…

I am excited about rebuilding my being and presence, straight from first harmony. Balanced, integral foundations, firmly rooted in my own wholeness and the wholeness of all life. Taking my hips and dantien as the three faces of god wall carving that first turned me on to the mystical journey. Wow. I like that. Quite a bit. Just took that whole idea I was hoping to describe to a whole new level. I’ll need to save that for another day.